4-X (Interlude)

Interlude 4

I don’t want to wake up today.

I stare at my alarm clock for fifteen minutes before it goes off. I can hear it, but I’m just not paying proper attention to it.

And the sports news today, it’s one minute past nine on May 12th, 1990. The final of the FA cup is due to take place today at 3 O’Clock this afternoon, between Crystal Palace and Manchester United, in the Wembley Stadium. If Crystal Palace manage to win this game, they’ll be able to qualify for the European-”

I slap into the top of my alarm clock to turn it off and nearly sweep it off my bedside cabinet. I don’t care about football anymore. I can’t stay in bed all day or it’ll be worse, so I drag myself out and start to get ready. It’s Saturday at least, so the house is quiet.

I get myself ready; get some clothes out, all I’ve got is tracksuits tops and bottoms, and a white t-shirt. I never liked them. I wish I could just stay in my pajamas all day but I’d get told off for that by dad. So I put them on my bed, and go and have a shower.

The house is empty. Dad wakes up on a weekend and goes to the pub, he’ll be watching the football. He’s a big Man-U fan and he might be happy for once if they win. God, I hope they do. He’ll drink all day when he’s not at work, and goes straight to the pub after work. He works on the railways in Nottingham, only half an hour’s drive from where we live. Mum works in a clothes shop on the weekend to earn a bit more money, but dad’s the one that pays for everything.

After my shower, I tidy myself up and check my face. I’ve got my mum’s brown, curly hair and my dad’s face. That’s what they tell me, anyway. No beard yet though. I hoped I’d start to shave soon. Maybe dad would show me how to, that’d be… nice. I’m feeling a bit better after the shower, but not much. I think that maybe I should practice shaving, maybe it’ll start making my hair grow quicker? Maybe not. I don’t know. Nobody’s told me how it works yet. Maybe I shouldn’t, then.

I put my clothes on, and time for some breakfast. I go downstairs, and I think they left the windows open today because it doesn’t stink like fags that much for once. The closer I get to the living room, the more it does though, and I can smell some spilled beer as well. I grab a bowl and some milk, and some Golden Grahams and eat them in the kitchen, standing up.

The kitchen’s okay. We’ve got everything we need here, and the floor is linoleum so it’s easy to mop down. It’s in a black and white square pattern, and the walls look like some kind of white woodchip pattern. It looks ugly, like the window curtains made of white lace, and everything else is a weird crème colour with brown wooden handles. There’s a dining table on the other end though, and some other kids at school say they have dining rooms and don’t eat in the kitchen.

All the dishes have been left in the sink as well, with one more after I’m done eating, so I start to wash up. I don’t really have many friends, so I don’t go out on the weekend. I’ll stay in and do the house work. Mum comes in and she’s tired and she has to talk to dad, so she’s not always able to do everything, and I don’t wanna see her unhappy. So, first, I do the dishes.

Afterwards, I’ll mop the floor, clean down the surface, but I leave the clothes because mum does them and says there’s a way that she does it that she likes, so that’s for her to do. But I’ll clean everywhere else, the living room, my bedroom, mum and dad’s room, the room where they keep the washing machines. I don’t do the garden yet, dad doesn’t trust me with the lawnmower. Says I might blow it up or something.

So I go into the living room, and there’s something on the glass table. The living room is like the kitchen, except worse. Two of the walls are lilac, the other two are cream and the carpet is this weird pattern, mixing blues and yellows and reds together. We’ve got a couch and dad’s armchair, both red and suede, with cushions matching the carpets. There’s a big wooden place for the TV and all of dad’s trophies, from darts and pub quizzes to snooker, and some of my video tapes and audio cassettes. I want more, I love music. I went to A&A music in town the other week and heard this band called Dream Theater. I really want the album they made last year, but we don’t have a CD player yet.

I move the bottles of Stella off a pair of cards on the table, with a ring of beer on the top one. The first one’s in a blue envelope with “To James” written on it. I open it up, and it’s off my mum. It’s a Thunderbirds card, with Brains on the front, and a badge telling me to have a fab birthday.

“To James, have a great birthday! Love, mum xxx”

The second card is in a white envelope and has nothing written on the front. The corner is bent as well. I open it up, and it’s a card with this blue chalky background with purple squiggly lines on the front, and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” on the front. It feels heavy, so I turn it up and a quid falls out. Luckily, I catch it, unbend the corner, and open it.

There’s the writing on the inside of the card saying happy birthday, but nothing else has been written on it. This is from dad, then.

I pocket the quid, and have a quick look. No present this year again. So I take the cards upstairs to my room, and put them underneath my bed. I have a small folder where I keep all my birthday cards. When I was younger, my family gave me some, from my cousins and uncles and aunties, but when I was about six they stopped. I don’t get any chance to talk with them any more. I don’t know what happened.

I put them in the back insert of the folder for my thirteenth birthday and shove it under the bed. I should get on with the housework.

Takes me about two and a half hours to do everything properly. Everything cleaned, the beer bottles emptied and thrown out, dishes done, floors mopped and hoovered. I even open the airs and spray some smelly stuff to get rid of the smell of fags and beer, but I don’t know about getting the stains out of the carpet, so I’ll just leave it for now.

It means I’ve got nothing else to do, so I go back upstairs, and it’s time to practice.

Mum and dad said I was born weird. Dad says I’m a freak, so I stopped showing them. Then my mum asks me why I don’t talk to them about anything any more, but they won’t get it, so I just shrug at them. I don’t tell them anything because when I do, they put me down. It’s really… I mean, really obvious why I don’t talk to them. They just don’t get it.

They told me when I was born it was like the devil was watching, because the windows began to shake and the lights started to flicker on and off. That’s why I deserve it, but they don’t know what I can really do. So, I practice at home when I can.

I’ve been able to do this since I was a kid. I could make things. Panels of something, it’s like it’s made out of light but it’s made like a glass. They’re a yellow colour, almost like gold if it wasn’t metal looking, and it glows around the edges with a pink light. Dad says the pink looks gay and I showed some kids at school one time, but they started to call me names, call me gay and faggot, so I never did it again. They don’t stop calling me names, but… I’m not at school on a Saturday. It doesn’t matter.

At first I could only make a single panel, but then after I got comfortable with that, I felt like I could do something else with it. It felt like… I’d stretched that muscle as far as it could go, and then I knew I could do something else. Stretch it out another way. Like I’d gotten so comfortable with it that other things could be done, so I started at first to make it bigger. It was tough, it felt like I could just about do it but not very well at all, until I kept going and going. I spent hours in my room trying and trying until I made it twice as big, and kept doing that until it got comfortable again.

And then I felt I could do something again, so I figured, when I was good enough at a new thing I tried, I’d feel like I could do something else with it. I used to be able to make only one panel, but then I could make more. Make one, then two, then another. Then I started making more than one at a time, and making things like cubes.

I’m thirteen now, and I can do a lot more than just make a box. I can make a bat, and a shield. I practice making the bat now, and it takes ten seconds to form up. The edges are rough though, and a bit spiky, because I’ve been only able to make flat surfaces, so I make them smaller and smaller until they start to smooth out. I’ve made a shield as well that’s several panels put together. I even made some panels to make it look like there’s a design on it. I’d love a coat of arms. I’d love to go into space as well. One day, I wanted to be an astronaut, and I told my teacher that, but she said I should be realistic.

I can make a bat and a shield with my mind and she wants me to be realistic.

I’ve wondered what else I can do. Maybe I can make a telescope, if I can make this stuff less yellow and more like glass. I always wanted one for Christmas but never got one. But I wouldn’t need it if I could make it myself!

Lately I’ve been practising to move things by thinking about it. That’s what I’m doing today, that’s the latest thing to get better at. So I take the bat in my hand, and start to move it upwards. It’s not as much of a strain as it used to be and it’s hard to explain just what it feels like. It feels like… It’s connected, and a part of me is linked to it, somewhere in the back of my head, and the rest of my body. But there’s a gap between us, and if I wanted to, I have to feel across this gap to make it do something. It’s like I’m exerting myself but I’m not sure where from. I don’t know. I’ve never heard of anybody else with something like this.

Am I the only one?

It’s all I really do when I’m at home. Sometimes I’ll read books and do my homework, but I don’t really go out otherwise. On weekends I can spend hours at a time practising and getting better. It’s easier when it’s quiet like right now, but I’m getting better at concentrating when there’s a lot of noise as well. This is the only thing I’m really good at, anyway, so I should keep going.

The next hours are just in my room, making things move how I want them to. I can make the bat move, and swing around. Nothing too hard just yet, but I’m getting there, slowly. Need to keep getting better and doing more. Something really good.

At least when I’m up here and nobody else is, and it’s quiet, I feel at peace for once. But it won’t last, I know it won’t.

I can hear everything going on downstairs.

Dad got back from the pub at half six, and mum started cooking tea for us then. He was drunk, still drunk and kept having more beer when he got in. He hasn’t been quiet since he got in, and he shouted at mum when his tea wasn’t on the table. She told him she was waiting until he got in to ask what he wanted, so he seemed to calm down a bit.

I’m in my room, and I’m trying to move a box in the air but I can’t concentrate. Every time I try to raise it up, I keep hearing them clearer downstairs, and I-

“-oi, tea’s ready.” He shouts. “James, you better not miss your tea again tonight or I’ll come up there and drag you down.”

Dad’s voice breaks my focus and I can’t keep the box any longer, and it vanishes. I don’t want to go downstairs. I’ve missed a lot of food because of it and my teacher’s saying I’m starting to look thin, but I’m scared. I’m scared that he might do something, but if I don’t go downstairs it could be worse. Dad’s got a really bad temper.

It takes me a minute to calm myself down long enough to go downstairs. I’m trembling, and I go into the kitchen. Hopefully if I look at the floor he won’t have a go at me. I’m really not hungry anyway.

When I go downstairs, I look up and see mum and dad looking at me. Dad looked annoyed, like I did something bad, but he always looks like that lately. He’s got dark hair and he’s starting to lose it, and there’s a big bald patch in the middle of his head. He’s also got a thick mustache. Mum looks awkward, like she just wants it to be over, and she’s got curly brown hair down to her cheeks. I go and sit down next to her, where my dinner plate is. The food looks nice, it’s rushed, but I’m really not hungry and I don’t want to be here. There’s some cooked chicken pieces, some mashed potato and gravy, sweetcorn, peas. I don’t like peas, but I’m not going to say anything. I’ll just leave them, but I’ll poke them with my fork and just move them around.

Dad watches me. He’s finished his and mum has nearly finished her tea, and I’ve got my sweetcorn and peas to eat.

He takes a look down at my plate, and his voice makes me flinch. “You gonna eat that?”

I don’t say anything. I just stare down at my plate and hold my fork still, but he doesn’t wait long to talk again.

“Answer me.”

“I-I’m not that hungry.”

“After your mum’s made it for yer, yer don’t even eat it? Eat your food, James.”

I swallow and lift my fork up. My mum talks, and I look up at her.

“Darren, he doesn’t have to eat them. James, it’s fine.”

She smiles at me, it’s weak, but my dad raises his voice and talks back to her.

“I’m trying to teach the lad some respect for yer, Sandra, don’t encourage him. He needs to finish his food, fuckin’ look at him, he’s skin and bones.”

“Darren! Don’t swear in front of him, he’s just a boy!”

He points at her. “I can say what I want, and he-” He points at me, I just about see it with my head hung down. “-is not growing up to be a little shit.”

“Well you’re not setting a good example, are you?”

My mum sounds so angry. I hate it. I hate it when it gets like this, I don’t want to be here.

“James.” Dad says, I look up and he’s staring really hard at me. I can see his face starting to go read. “Go upstairs. Now.”

I’m frozen. I want to move but I can’t. It’s not until he shouts “I SAID GO UPSTAIRS” that I feel my body moving before I do and I get out of my chair, and I go upstairs right away. I run up the stairs and fall near the top, hitting myself in the chest, before I run up and run into my room.

They’re shouting at each other again. I sit on my bed and curl up but I can’t stop hearing them. Dad gets louder and my mum is trying not to shout. I try to practice. Making things feels good, it keeps me calm. I start to make a bat, because that’s what I’m good at.

“-just some peas and sweetcorn, he doesn’t have to eat it!”

“It’s not about that, my dad taught me to respect my mum’s cooking and he fuckin’ will too.”

“How’s he gonna respect you when you swear at him and shout at him, Darren?!”

“That’s what my dad did with me and that’s what I’m doing with him. He needs to respect his elders like we did.”

The bat doesn’t take long to form, even with all the shouting going on downstairs. I feel it in my hand, and it makes me feel like there’s nothing going on downstairs. I hear them shouting, but I don’t think about the words. I feel myself making the flat edges, so many of them, trying to make them less spiky, and the bat that forms in my hand looks just a bit better than the last one. It feels so solid and real, like-

There’s a noise. Loud. A smack, followed by silence.

I can feel the bat in my hand still, but I stop breathing for a moment. I can feel my hand tremble against the bat, so still, but I know. I don’t want to know, but I know.

He hit mum.

There’s only a second before she shouts back.

“You did not just fucking hit me.”

There’s another slap, much weaker. I think mum hit him back. But dad doesn’t wait before he hits her again, harder. That noise shakes me to my tummy. It makes me want to throw up.

“Don’t you DARE, fucking hit me again, you stupid BITCH.”

I can’t hear mum, but I hear dad, and I hear him hit her again, and again. They’re not slaps, they’re… they’re…

I’m so scared. I want to cry so bad, and I can feel it starting. I’m shaking so bad, and I can feel the tears rolling down my cheeks, but every time he hits her, I just-

I know this is wrong, every time he does it.

I can’t let him hurt her, but, but-

Whenever they tell you to be brave, they… People make it easy, like they know the choice is the right one, and that they don’t stop being afraid, but I’m so scared, and the more I think about it, the more I don’t want to, and then-

Then I hear him hit her again, and I know this is so wrong, and I need to do something this time.

The bat is still in my hand. It hasn’t gone.

I don’t notice where I am more than what I’m feeling. Crying. My heart is pounding a lot. I feel sick to the bottom of my stomach, my body is trembling. I want to go home, but I am home, so I want to be somewhere else. I almost nearly fell down the stairs, but I keep my balance and walk into the kitchen.

Dad’s standing there, back to me, mum is sitting down in the corner. She’s holding her face. She’s crying. So am I. I’m breathing so loud that I don’t need to get his attention, he turns towards me as soon as he hears me.

His fists are clenched. He looks so angry, I feel like my heart just stopped, but it beats and lets me know I’m still here, but I can’t move. I want to, but my body won’t let me.

He shouts at me, it’s like nothing I’ve heard before. “I said GO UPSTAIRS.”

Mum uncovers her hands and looks at me. She’s never looked so afraid before. All she can say is “James!” before dad turns around back to her, pointing down at her.

“SHUT UP.”

I don’t know what comes over me. I feel this need to act. My voice breaks as I shout back. “LEAVE MUM ALONE!”

Dad stops. He turns to me. He looks surprised, but he also looks like he’s angrier than before. His face is scrunched up, even more red than before, and he starts walking towards me.

I want to run, oh god I want to run but I can’t, because my body won’t move and I can’t run, not now.

He grabs me by the ear, and grabs hard and pulls me down so I’m dragged forwards. If he pulls any harder, he’s going to rip it off, the pain is so bad, and I can’t help it, I let out a scream as he pulls me forwards.

“No son of mine is going to shout at me like that. NO SON OF MINE-”

He stops, because mum got up and started to slap him on the back of the head. She’s shouting as well. “LEAVE HIM ALONE, LET GO OF MY BOY-”

Dad lets go of me, and I almost fall over. I drop the bat, but it’s still in my open hand, like it wasn’t going to fall out. I grab it again and look up as he hits her across the face again, almost pushing her to the floor.

“Our son’s a fucking FREAK, look at him, you wanna raise our son to be-”

Something just goes in me. My heart feels like it’s hammering at my chest, my limbs feel tight, and I just-

I don’t think. I walk up, and I swing my mace at dad’s back. I don’t hit him hard, but it gets his attention. He turns, he raises his hand and hits me in the face. Open palmed, it throws me down to the floor. I let go of the bat, but I feel it in the air. Where I was hit. I’m looking at the ground, and I can’t make out what’s being said, but I feel it in me. I look up. The bat’s there, and I can feel it as a part of me.

Dad’s staring over me, I pull myself up. No fear, just doing. And the bat-

I don’t even know what I’m doing. I feel the bat like it’s still in my hand and swing at my dad, as hard as I can. With my body, with my mind. More my mind.

The sound as it hits him. A crack. A snap. He goes from standing to the floor in seconds. I can see every detail. His face as he’s hit in pain. The blood from his mouth on the floor-

I stand up. I can’t be on the floor, he’ll get me here. I reach for the bat, and it pulls into my arm. I’m startled by it doing that, but that only lasts for a second. I walk over to my dad as he’s on the floor, and all I can think about is that noise.

The noise as he hit her. The noise when I hit him.

I’ve been so angry at him for so long because of all of this, I’ve cried myself to sleep so many times, gone so hungry because of him.

He hurt mum. He hurt her so much.

It all boils over. My mind is using the bat harder than my arm can. I hit him. I don’t care where. I hear the bat hit his arm, his shoulder, his head. He tries to cover himself so I hit the hand harder until he pulls it away. I keep going and screaming “NEVER HURT HER AGAIN” and hit him harder. I don’t know how many times it took him to stop shouting. When he did, I started to hear something snap with every hit.

I stop when I can’t lift my arm. It doesn’t take long. Dad’s still breathing, but he’s-

Mum.

The bat just goes. I turn to her and she’s in the corner, staring at me. She looks more afraid than when dad was hitting her. I can feel it still in me, this energy, but I can’t get rid of it. My breath is shaky, my hands tremble.

“M-mum, I-”

She flinches and backs up. All she said, in anger and hate, was “GET AWAY FROM ME!”

I stop and step back, and everything suddenly starts to crash down on me. What I just did, who I did it to, my mum had to watch all of that. She’s looking at me, and I can’t-

I can’t take it.

She’s afraid of me because I’m no better than he is. I hurt family.

I go out of the room. The quiet is bad. It’s around me. It’s only broken when I pick up the phone and start to type in the numbers. My fingers are trembling, and I almost don’t type in 999.

I hold the phone up to my ear. I don’t know what mum’s doing, but I can’t hear her over the phone ringing, and the voice on the other end. It’s a scottish woman. Her voice is calm. I’m breathing so quickly again.

Hello, emergency service operator. Which service do you-”

She can hear me breathing. I want to cry again, and I start sobbing already.

…hello?”

“I-I need you t-to”

It’s okay.” She says. It’s not okay. She can hear me. I sound like a crying kid. I am a crying kid. “Calm down, it’s okay. Who do you need? Firemen, police men, or ambulance men?”

“P-police and ambulance. I, my dad, h-he’s…”

Take your time. What happened? Is anybody hurt?”

“My d-dad is. Because my dad-” I pause, to sniff my nose. “-my dad hurt my mum, so I h-hurt him, and we need the police and the ambulance.”

Okay, I’ll send somebody along, but I need you to tell me where you are, and what happened?”

“I’m at home, and I-” I want to throw up now, but I hold it in. I need to do the right thing, even if it’s not the thing I want to do. “-my dad hurt my mum, and then he hurt me. So I hurt him even worse, because h-he’ll never hurt her again, but I’m just as bad as he is now. So the police need to take b-both of us away.”

How old are you?”

“Th… thirteen today.”

It’s your birthday? Is your mum okay?”

“M-my mum’s a bit hurt, but she’s okay. He was hurting her again.”

I’m gonna need to take your address now, but what you did is very brave. You’re a brave young man.”

I can’t help it. I start crying, sobbing as loud as I can. I want mum to hold me, but I know it’s never going to happen. I don’t believe the woman on the phone though.

How can I be brave if I feel this bad for helping my mum? I don’t feel brave.

I just feel like I’ve hurt her even more.

I’m woken by my alarm clock. I know what day it is, what time it is. Today’s an important day for me, so I get out of bed almost instantly. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I rub my eyes, digging my index fingers into all the sleep that’s accumulated. It’s a lot today, for only seven or eight hours of sleep. The radio’s a little bit distorted, so I reach over and turn the dial gently; left, right, getting it so I can hear the news, in the nearly pitch black morning. Once it’s on, I listen as I get out of bed, and get everything ready to have a shower.

-two minutes past six, on April 28th 2003. Here’s the in depth news for today. Two days ago on the 26th marked the seventeenth anniversary of the Farside Incident. Whilst it is controversial whether or not such an event changed our lives for better or worse, the discovery of non-lethal weaponry by Janos Briggs averted one of the largest civil wars in the middle east in recent years, the so-called ‘Religious Wars’ that ran from August of 1995 to December of 1998. And now, after five years of talks with the Metropolitan Police, they are ready to make a public announcement regarding the county’s security regarding the Farside. Attending also to make a statement will be Janos Briggs, and the latest addition to the country’s defence; the enigmatic individual who makes himself known as ‘Sovereign’, the self proclaimed ‘first Farborn of England’.”

Radio off, that’s all I needed to hear. I drag myself to the bathroom, and get in the shower. Temperature as high as it can go, I wait a few seconds so it can heat up. Before the mirror starts to fog up, I catch a glance of myself in the mirror.

Every time I see my face, it reminds me of him.

Most of the time I look away, but I notice I need a shave. I’ll have to get to that after I’ve gotten myself clean.

Water’s hot enough, so I jump in. I take my time with a shower, not only because I love it but because it helps me think, helps me to get in the right state of mind in the morning.

Is it arrogant of me to want to hear my name on the radio in the morning? I don’t think so. The recognition is nice, and anybody who’s had something similar would agree with me. It’s nice that what I’m doing is getting noticed, but it’s more important that I’m being noticed for what’s going to change. A big change, and I get to at least have a little part in it.

I don’t know what it is about seeing my reflection, but I can’t take my mind over what happened on that day, on my thirteenth birthday. Every noise stays with me. When I’m out on the streets, being a vigilante, sometimes I hear a noise similar to the sound of Darren’s hand hitting Sandra across the face. Just for a second, I can be taken back, and that second may cost me something. But it reminds me in a way, and reaffirms that you have to do what must be done, right or even difficult, because I’m not letting another kid go through that if I can stop it. So I snap out of it, and I feel stronger mentally than ever.

Technically I’m a vigilante, but not after today. I hope so, anyway.

After I called the police, I went and gave my statement. The police wouldn’t let me return home after what had happened, and social services had to step in because I was so young. They asked me if I had any family I could live with. I told them I had an aunt and an uncle on my mum’s side but I’ve not spoken to them in a long time, so social services got in touch with them. My mum didn’t want me back after what happened, she stood with Darren every step of the way, and Gail and Stephen didn’t hesitate to agree to let me stay with them.

They told me it was okay when I said I wanted to prosecute him as much as I could. Darren went down for actual bodily harm and assault and spent five years in prison for it. After it was all said and done, I never saw either of them again.

I learned that the reason Gail and Stephen stopped sending me cards and stopped being in touch was because of Darren. He was growing more violent, more angry, becoming an alcoholic, and they managed to take me out of a dark place. It took me a year before I stopped flinching when they tried to hug me. If it wasn’t for them, I’d have gone down a very different path. And I wouldn’t be enjoying this shower so much right now, definitely.

I get out of the shower after washing myself twice over, only because that was a damn good shower, and I get some shaving foam from the cabinet and start putting it all over my face. I don’t really show my face but if I have to, I’d rather be clean shaven and neat, so I get to shaving.

So from thirteen onwards, I lived with my aunt and uncle and my cousin, Laura. They thought my powers were weird, and I honestly don’t fault them for that, but they accepted it in their own way. I kept practising, but I had the support from my family. I moved schools, started going to classes, even taking up weights in gym and learning some boxing lessons to get me in better shape. On my fourteenth birthday, they gave me a telescope, and I didn’t stop crying and hugging them for half an hour.

On my seventeenth birthday, I had already gone out on trips to Nottingham City Centre at night time. I studied the area, I checked where crime was, and I started to try and make a difference. It had to be small stuff at first; if I saw a mugging, I’d stop it and try to apprehend them, knock them out, get the police in and run before they could see me. I made sure that the first thing I learned to make and sustain was a mask made out of my powers. It didn’t take long for word to get out, because when you see a guy covering his face in goldish-yellow hard light with glowing pink edges, people tend to remember that.

I started to get more ambitious. The more I learned how to use my powers and do more things with them, the more I went after heavier crime. I bought some body armour to put underneath my hard light armour, because as good as my powers were, I’m not an idiot. Bullets can still get me. I tapped into the police channels to hear about things going on, and if I could reach them I would. I stalked people growing drugs and selling them and anonymously tipped off the police. I dragged rapists with their pants down about to do the deed and hung them upside down for the police to deal with.

I was local news. Eventually, I needed to do more. News reported more Eldritch attacks that the police couldn’t handle. Underground crime rings. Men who would go unpunished because they had money to throw around. Human traffickers. When I started to fashion a suit of armour out of my own powers, I refined it. I controlled it, hardened it, made it light enough to move like a second skin, I knew I could do that. I had the power to say no, even if the police weren’t happy about it. That’s when I started going from local to national.

I finish shaving. No cuts, thank god. The aftershave I put on stings like a bitch though. I wince, it wakes me up even more than I was before. But I smell good, and I look good. Time to put on some clothes, so I go back to the bedroom and check out the suit I’m planning to wear.

I can’t be everywhere at once, and I tend to go for the big things now. Disasters, eldritch attacks, sudden crimes like robberies that I can reach in time. Other Farborn and Fartouched, that’s what we call ourselves now. Men and women who were born with powers from the Farside, or went into the Farside, are using them to commit crime, and not enough are willing to stand up against it. Except me.

I’m one man though, and if I’m in an area, people know that I can’t be elsewhere. That’s what today is about. The whole press release is about a new police force dedicated to dealing with Farborn and Fartouched criminals, and Eldritch attacks.

We need a better term for ‘Farborn and Fartouched’ to lump them together. Farsiders?

No, that sounds dumb. Somebody will figure something out. They always find a name for things.

When I started to get famous, things started to change. People were asking who the ‘Golden Man’ was and I realised I couldn’t keep acting anonymously. There was a lot of backlash, saying ‘one man with powers doesn’t decide who can and can’t be arrested’ and a lot of people saying this isn’t a comic book, and we’re not America. I agree with them, that we’re not America, but I’m doing what the police can’t, especially when a Fartouched who can make fire out of nothing starts to torch down buildings.

So I needed to get a name, and to have some sort of image in the public. It was hard to do it when you worked on an I.T. Helpdesk, but I was good at my job. It was stable, but it was holding me back. What if I could do this all the time? No normal life, just me. An actual superhero. Kids would kill for that opportunity.

I wouldn’t kill, but I’d do a lot to make it happen.

The suit’s on and I check the mirror. Windsor knot looks good. Watch is fine, ring sits nicely on my hand. White shirt, black tie, nothing too outrageous. Nothing I can show off either, really. I make my way downstairs to get some breakfast. I pop some toast in and pour myself a glass of juice, and I eat in silence. I can’t stand it being too noisy in the morning. I need my peace.

I remember walking through Manchester once and somebody was selling a bootleg shirt with me, in my armour, with ‘GOLDEN MAN’ written underneath. Firstly, that name is dumb as shit. Secondly, I realised that people wanted a shirt with me on. There was an opportunity here.

The internet was starting to gain traction, and I learned through various message boards that a woman, quite famous as a fashion designer, wanted to meet me in person. She called herself The Designer, and we met face to face for coffee. We had the exact same thing in mind: Turn me into Britain’s first superhero. I didn’t need a costume or a name; I was Sovereign, Britain’s first Farborn, the Golden Boy, and people knew me by my armour. She was annoyed, but she was also relieved, because she could focus on what else she could do. Long story short, we had a marketing campaign. It would take a bit to get some speed going, but my name was getting out there now, and it would start to snowball. It really did.

Long story short, I’m a name now. I’ve not been out there too long as Sovereign, but the income I get from merchandise is enough to keep me afloat comfortably. They’re thinking about getting action figures out there for me. Absolutely crazy, and cool at the same time. I’m buying one when they come out.

I’ve been in touch with the police for a few years now. There was this unspoken agreement that they would let me do what I need to do, if I worked with them and went through the proper procedures. Criminals were to be detained properly and arrested as far as the law went, but I was allowed to use any non-lethal means to bring suspects to police custody. With this new police unit though, I’d be working as more of an independent person, still working beside them and still doing my own thing, but it means I don’t have to do it all alone.

Once breakfast is done, I tidy up and check the time. Nearly quarter to seven. That was a really long shower. I should make my way out so I have enough time to get there and meet people if I need to.

I grab my keys, my wallet and phone and any other essential I might need.
Set my house alarm and leave, locking up afterwards. I always take a ten minute walk in any direction, somewhere I’ve hopefully not been before, and once I get to a quiet enough place where there’s not many people watching, I suit up.

I’m in an alley between two terraced houses. Good enough. The most important thing to do when doing this is to do your feet first. I raise both my feet up and make some hard light beneath the soles of my shoes, and then start to work upwards.

When I was younger, I was much rougher, less refined. Now, I feel my powers almost unfold into the object, instead of having to force many different layers and edges into something that resembles it. The boots that I make to cover my feet and legs look so smooth as if they were curved, forming quickly enough that you’d blink and miss it. I like a traditional approach when making my armour; thousands of interlocking pieces of chain to form a vest and leggings over my clothes, that weigh virtually nothing with my powers, yet offering me all the protection I need. I cover my upper and lower body with them, as well as making gloves on my hands. I make a coif of chain around my head as well; everywhere needs to be protected, as long as I can see, I’ll be fine otherwise.

Then, I start to form the real bulk of my armour. The secret to my durability is that I’ve practised to make my hard light as tough as possible, as thin as possible, then with each plate, I make several different layers all packed together, so they don’t only have one to go through, they have several dozen. I start with the plates on my arms and legs, then make boots and gauntlets, a breastplate and helmet, and fill in all the gaps afterwards. It adds something to my height as well, which is all the better; it makes me more intimidating, awe inspiring.

I have the slits for my visor, but it’s not entirely needed. One benefit I have is that my hard light is a little less opaque for me, and I can see through it without too much trouble. People think they can skirt around my peripheral vision, but the truth is it helps that people think I have a weakness to abuse, to catch them off guard.

The entire process takes less than half a minute. Now fully armoured, I’m no longer James Millican; I’m Sovereign.

My suit is a second skin that I’m fully in touch with. It moves as I move. I will the suit to move like I would move part of my body, so flying and lifting myself up isn’t difficult any more. The hard light I make has a few other advantages; it can absorb some force from impacts, which is why it’s so durable. It also helps when I’m flying, because of the times when I’ve practised flying, some of the turns I do mid-air should have given me a concussion.

Up into the sky, I raise myself up. It makes me wonder if I should add wings to my armour. That’d be a nice touch. I can muse on it as I’m on my way, so I launch myself forward and build up speed, flying through the sky like a golden bolt of light. It gives me time to appreciate the freedom I have right now, and what to expect when I get to the press conference.

The sky’s clear today, it’s beautiful. I hope the rest of the day goes as well.

“We’re just waiting for the last few people to arrive before we go on-stage.”

One of the assistants here tells me; a young woman with dyed blonde hair and lots of freckles. Most press conferences are small, but this one is quite big. We’re in the Manchester hall, and I’m sat in one of the back rooms that leads to the largest room in the Memorial Hall. The interior looks more like a cathedral than a business conference, but I think the building has a good aesthetic to it.

I haven’t had much to do other than talk to the people working here for the past half an hour, so I’ve really gotten an appreciation for staring at the walls here.

They’re really nice walls, to be fair.

It helps that nobody really knows where I’m looking at under my armour, and I’m not taking it off, even for a second. The moment I do is the moment I could be attacked. Not paranoid, just pragmatic. I’ve made friends over the years, and I’ve also made enemies. Enemies with supernatural powers.

People have questions, so I don’t mind talking to them about what I do. I nod to the girl, who raises her hand to the device she has in her ear. What do they call them, Blueteeth, Bluetooth? She’s hearing something and nods to herself, then turns to me.

“Mr. Sovereign” she says, “The conference will begin in the next ten minutes.”

I lift my head up and turn towards the window in the door, and see through a small corridor that the hall is packed; a large platform with tables at the front for me and the other members of the Police to sit at, with large banners of the Metropolitan police behind us, and behind that is a large white screen. There must be a good hundred people here; journalists of all kinds, news reporters. Cameras behind them to televise the event, and people with cameras, and notepads and pens at the ready. Everyone is talking amongst themselves, busying each other until they get what they come for.

The girl raises her head again. “Really, now?” She asks. She gets a response, I unfold my arms and keep my head turned to the door whilst keeping an eye on her through the hard light.

“Mr. Sovereign, this may seem unorthodox, but a member of the Police wishes to speak to you before the conference. She says she’s going to be part of the new division?”

Today’s not devoid of surprises, it seems. I nod to her. “Of course. I’d be happy to.”

I take a stand, and there’s a knock at the door. The assistant turns to it, as confused as I am, and goes to the door and opens it. Standing in front of her is a lady, in some kind of brown, hooded robe with her arms uncovered. Brown, pale green, cream. Long, blonde hair, smiling widely.

Is that a blindfold on her head?

The assistant listens to her ear again and she’s hesitant, but she nods and stands aside. “…sorry.”

“That’s fine.” The robed woman says, stepping inside. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

Stepping forward, I look down at her. She looks up at me, stepping closer to me, and locks eyes with me. She doesn’t even take any time to do that, as if she already knew. I get the feeling she has some kind of powers. Sight related? Would explain the blindfold. Nobody can see through the hard light, except me.

“Hello. What would you prefer to be called?”

Does she mean my name? I’m feeling a little weirded out by this. If she can see where my eyes are, she probably can see me frowning at her. I have no idea what I’m dealing with here.

“Sovereign.” I tell her. I can’t get a good read on her. She just seems pleasant, but she looks like she knows more about me than I do.

“Sovereign.” She bows her head slightly. “You can call me Sage. We both know the purpose of this conference.”

She waits a moment. Feels like she wants me to fill in the gap for her. “To form a division of the police aimed to deal with any threats of the Eldritch or any Farborn or Fartouched individual.”

“That’s right.” She says, her smile dimming for a moment. “I’m going to be one of the Directors. The Director of the Manchester branch. Specifically the territorial police headquarters. I won’t be in charge, but I will be managing most of the north. I thought it would be good if we met, just had a polite word.”

“I appreciate that. Are you going to be speaking today?”

She shakes her head, folding her hands over each other, where her lap would be if she were sitting down. “I work best when I’m not in the spotlight.”

“The woman behind the curtain, so to speak.”

She smiles wider, nodding. “I’m Fartouched, as you’ve already guessed. My powers aren’t made for confrontations. It must be nice to know that there’s enough of us to work together, that you’re not the only one out there.”

I get a sudden feeling of memories of when I was a child again. Does she know? What doesn’t she know right now?

“I feel that we can start to make a change. And maybe, children born with powers, or people that get them, don’t have to feel like how I did when I was younger. You know about that, don’t you?”

She stares at me for a second. I don’t feel intimidated by it, but I feel like she’s looking through me.

“Do you need me to validate that by saying yes?”

“Humour me.” I tell her.

“Then yes. I know. And I’m truly sorry that had to happen to you. But, to use a metaphor, from that darkness came something bright and golden. What happened, there is no justification I can give you or apologies that mean anything, but as a consequence, we have Sovereign. People thank you for that.”

There’s a moment of silence between us. A few chords have been struck, and I can’t honestly say I feel good about hearing that. I feel a mix of both.

“Did you come here for a reason?” I ask her.

“I did. I came to ask you a question.”

I hesitate for a second, but I do say “Okay. What do you want to know?”

“I already know the answer. But it’s not the answer I need. It’s going to be called the National Farside Unit. We’re going to have what we call agents instead of officers. Suited quite like you, with names and identities and outfits to match their wonderful abilities. In an age of the supernatural, people need figures to see as heroes and saviours, because big worlds full of strange things need big men and women for people to look up to and feel secure in. And you’re aware that we’ll take in the Fargraced, that’s what we call the Farborn and Fartouched. They will have a home in us, so that society can’t call them freaks, like you were called. We will have a home for them, and give them the shelter they need to grow.”

Her smile fades. “But you won’t be joining the NFU after all of this, will you?”

After all the meetings and talks I’ve had about this, and refusal to speak on the subject of me joining this National Farside Unit, I still can’t bring myself to say yes to joining. Even after all of this and this being everything I’ve worked towards, I still can’t help but to feel like if I was part of the Unit like this, I’d still be held back from what I need to do.

“No.” I tell her, as simply as I can.

Sage gains her smile again. “I know. You have your reasons and it’s not my place to convince you. As long as I can count on you working along side the NFU, for the greater good?”

I nod sharply to her. “Of course. That’s always been my priority. You know that.”

She laughs soft, nodding as she does. “I do. And you’ll be called in the next two minutes to go on stage. Before you do though, I have one last thing to say.”

I nod to her, and she carries on talking.

“When given the choice between the easy way, or the quick way, take neither. Take the right way, regardless of how hard it is. And if you can’t see the right way, then make one. Because that’s what we’re made to do.”

The words settle over me and I get a feeling I don’t understand them just yet. Maybe one day I will, but right now, I don’t feel much motivation from them.

Still, I politely nod. “Solid words of advice. Thank you, Sage.”

She smiles, not like the smiles she had before. She looks like she’s a little sad about it, but she bows her head. “That’s all that was needed for now. You’ll be going on in half a minute. Good luck, Sovereign.”

Sage bows her head again and turns around without saying another word, walking out the door she came in. Not so much as a word comes out of her, and in that moment where the quiet and the bizarreness of the situation starts to dawn on me, the assistant’s voice brings me back to my senses.

“Mr. Sovereign, you’re about to be called to the stage.”

I nod to her, then walk to the door. I take in a deep breath and exhale, and it feels like the weight has been taken off my shoulder, and I’m just waiting for the assistant’s cue now. Even from here I can hear the voice of the man on the microphone, who is just about finished introducing me so I can make my arrival.

…very own crime fighting superhero, Sovereign!”

The audience begin to clap and applaud, and the assistant waves a hand to beckon me to go. My gauntlets are a little too large for finer details, so I make a hard light claw against the door handle and pull it open. As I walk down the halls, I can hear the noise of my suit rattling with each step, slowly drowned out by the oncoming noises of applauding.

I finally emerge and stand in front of everyone, as the lighting hits my suit and illuminates me further for everyone to see. I take in another breath, and I feel renewed again as I’m walking over to the stage where police offers and men in suits sit, ready for me to sit beside them.

In this moment, I finally feel like it’s going to happen.

Time to make history.